NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Police and sanitation workers dismantled an East Village homeless encampment and destroyed the belongings of residents during a Monday morning vigil for a man who lived there and died on Thursday.
The community gathered by the encampment near the intersection of Avenue B and 9th Street near Tompkins Square Park around 10 a.m. to mourn Jose “Joe” Hernandez, a 71-year-old veteran who died of liver problems after spending some time in a coma.
Police had tried to sweep the encampment just before the vigil, but backed off when they saw a crowd gathering.
They came back with more officers about 30 minutes later and started carrying off tents, an arm chair and other property into a garbage truck.
The sweep was a part of Mayor Eric Adams’ homeless camp clearance program that has resulted in hundreds of similar raids across the city.
“I have said since we started this initiative that every New Yorker deserves dignity, and we are demonstrating that this is possible," said Adams when asked about the sweep on Monday. "Our teams are working professionally and diligently every day to make sure that every New Yorker living on the street knows they have a better option while ensuring that everyone who lives in or visits our city can enjoy the clean public spaces we all deserve.”
Adams has said sweep teams catalog and hold onto some property confiscated during homeless encampment sweeps. No vouchers were distributed during Monday’s raid, and all property was destroyed in a sanitation truck trash compactor.
The encampment has been targeted for at least eight sweeps since the end of March. Residents have repeatedly rebuilt in the same location as an act of civil disobedience against Adams’ sweep campaign.
Mourners, including residents, neighbors, activists and a reverend from the church across the street, were outraged that police had chosen to carry out the sweep during the vigil.
They begged the sweep team to give the grieving residents a break. One neighbor stood in the encampment area and refused to leave despite police’s commands to stand back and others harangued the team from the street.
“Stop f**king touching her” yelled one onlooker as a cop tried to physically move a vigil-goer.
“We’re in the middle of a memorial. How can you throw away people’s belongings?” said another.
After police and sanitation workers had finished destroying the camp, the vigil continued as planned, though maybe tinged with more anger and bitterness than it otherwise would have been.
“In a time when so many in our city and our nation see our own brothers and sisters as trash to be thrown away, swept away, to be taken away, what we do today is we lift up the humanity and the dignity of every single one of us,” said Rev. William Kroeze of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish. “We gather today to remember Joe. To lift him up in our hearts to make sure that he knows that he is not forgotten.”
Hernandez lived in the encampment with his wife Amalia Jordan.
After getting robbed twice in city shelters, Hernandez decided he preferred to live on the streets — where he spent his final years as his health failed.
“Nobody should die on the streets,” said Kroeze. “Nobody should die alone. Nobody should die homeless. Nobody should die with nothing to their name. So we cry out for justice. We cry out that we can do better as a people, as a nation, as a city.”
Hernandez survived multiple sweeps before he died.
He told 1010 WINS in March that, in one sweep, he lost all his clothes and cans of food.
“The sanitation truck stands there, and they start throwing everything in the truck,” he said. “I was living there… They throw all the stuff out, clothing. They were begging but they didn’t care.”
His loved ones remember him as a kind, gentle and loving person, who, despite having very little, took immense joy in giving.
“When he had, you were never in need,” said Johnny Grima, a resident of the encampment. “When he had cigarettes, you had cigarettes. When he had food, you had food. He slept here with us on the sidewalk. Cold days we spent together here. He was 71 years old man, he got his stuff thrown out by them too. He got scared of the police like the rest of us man. I mean now he’s gone.”